Van der Kamp, Maarten (2011) Enacting standards in organic agriculture. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.
This is a thesis about the standardisation of food through ‘sustainability’ labels, like those signifying organic or Fairtrade status. It examines how the voluntary product standards that underpin such labels are enacted through the everyday practices of producing, certifying and marketing farmed produce. This qualitative study of the enactment of organic standards in the UK suggests that such standards coordinate practices, forming an infrastructure which is normally invisible but which can be mobilised by producers to differentiate organic from conventional products. I describe the ways in which organic standards are enacted by farmers, certification bodies, policy makers and market actors. I suggest that standards provide process injunctions for farmers, requiring them to configure their farms in particular ways, adopt a preventative mode of farming, and a distinctive method of calculating value. I argue that organic standards are continually rewritten in the certification process, and that the multi-sited reproduction of different versions of organic standards results in markets characterised by a fragmented common space and partially maintained boundaries. Finally, I suggest that policy interventions formalise and frame organic farming as a public benefit. I argue that a multiplicity of ‘organics’ coexists with global notions of a singular ‘organic’, implying that the diffusion of ‘organic’ as a coherent concept is perfectly possible, even if the enactment of ‘organics’ in local practices is diverse. I suggest that all site-specific enactments of organic standards are abstracted into various formal spaces where they are made commensurable, and argue that the uniformity of organic ‘stuff’ is a result of the way local enactments are conjoined. These abstractions remove specifics of production and certification, and allow organic ‘stuff’ to circulate between actors. I conclude that the way in which voluntary product standards shape agricultural systems has political, organisational and ethical consequences for how ‘sustainable’ products are constituted.
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